Singapore to Combat Dengue With Facebook, Twitter
Fiona Low – Straits Times Indonesia
Singapore. Singaporeans will soon be able to get the latest dengue updates through new media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.
The city-state’s National Environment Agency (NEA) plans to roll out these services – such as providing information on the latest dengue clusters or areas that have been earmarked as high-risk – on these new media platforms within the next three months.
Such information is currently available only on the agency’s dengue website and through the NEA iPhone application.
The NEA is already on Facebook and Twitter, but it uses these platforms mainly to post information about its events and updates on situations such as haze conditions.
Through Facebook and Twitter, the public will also be able to post feedback or provide tip-offs.
For example, if Singaporeans notice an increase in the number of mosquitoes in your neighbourhood or find potential breeding sites, they can alert NEA officers by posting on the agency’s Facebook page or tweeting the NEA account.
“We need to put more information out in the public space, so more people can be informed and take action,” said Derek Ho, director of the environmental health department at NEA.
“Leveraging on new media channels such as Facebook and Twitter is a good way to do that.”
The NEA is also in the process of developing a mosquito-recognition program that can identify the species of mosquito from a photograph of its pupae or larvae.
With such software, and with the help of a mini microscope that attaches to the camera on a personal digital assistant or cellphone, NEA officers will be able to take photographs of larvae or pupae found in mosquito-breeding sites and instantly find out if they belong to the Aedes species, which spreads dengue.
The technology will work in a similar manner to facial-recognition programs, whereby the larvae or pupae will be identified based on their shapes, the proportions of their bodies and other characteristics.
Officers currently photograph the larvae or pupae and then send the image to NEA personnel for identification.
The agency is aiming to develop the technology within the next year.
When it is ready, the agency hopes to be able to integrate it with the NEA iPhone application, so that the public or grassroots members conducting checks around the neighbourhood can use the technology as well.
Early identification will allow the NEA to act more swiftly to curb the spread of dengue in potential high-risk zones.
For example, if an Andes mosquito- breeding site is detected, the NEA can increase the manpower in that area to conduct more checks or fogging.
However, the agency stressed that these measures are developed to complement, and not replace, existing strategies. Current methods of close monitoring and applying preventive measures remain key to controlling the dengue outbreak in Singapore, said Ho.
The NEA currently engages in extensive surveillance programmes to monitor information, such as the dengue serotypes in infected patients and ecological factors like vegetation and weather, in order to chart the disease pattern.
The agency has also set up an Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force to partner various private and government organisations, such as national water agency PUB and the National Parks Board, to control the spread of the disease.
The public is also being taught preventive measures through various channels. Specific campaigns target groups such as students, home owners and foreign workers to teach them how to prevent the spread of dengue.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 021 2553 5055.